SPOKANE, Wash. — An initiative that could save Washington drivers hundreds of dollars each year but may prove costly for state and local transportation departments has passed.
Initiative 976 will pass, with 55.01% of voters approving the initiative and 44.99% rejecting it at last check. The initiative would cap state car tab fees at $30.
The state’s budget office estimates the passage of I-976 would eliminate more than $4 billion in tax revenue by 2025.
Initiative sponsor and anti-tax activist Tim Eyman says the state should use reserves and the Rainy Day Fund to pay for construction projects, adding that voters are tired of paying hundreds of dollars to renew car tabs.
The Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) estimates that passage of the initiative would eliminate hundreds of millions of dollars from the 2019-2021 budget.
WSDOT spokesperson Kris Rietmann Abrudan said the loss to transportation accounts during that time period is estimated at $451 million out of a $6.7 billion budget.
The estimated revenue loss for 2021-2023 is $645 million and $726 million for 2023-2025.
“This is a significant loss to specific programs supported by our agency budget,” Abrudan said in a statement to KREM.
Abrudan added that it is too soon to tell how the initiative’s effect would be felt by the public, but that WSDOT will work closely with Gov. Jay Inslee’s office, the Legislature and the Office of Financial Management to answer questions and determine actions to take.
Spokane Transit Director of Communications and Customer Service Brandon Rapez-Betty said they estimate that at least $31 million in transit funding is in jeopardy over the next six years.
"We estimate the risk to transit funding could be as high as $31 million over the next six years, which may affect key projects like the Central City Line, the Cheney Line, I-90 improvements, as well as Paratransit and Vanpool funding. STA leadership and the Board of Directors have been anticipating this outcome and will continue to work with the state legislature, WSDOT and regional stakeholders to determine a path forward that continues to prioritize these projects and services as important growth mitigation strategies,” he said in a statement.
The ballot measure, if passed, is expected to take effect by Dec. 5, 2019. This means drivers who renew their tabs at this time would pay $30.
“Together we will work to ensure that policy makers understand the tradeoffs as they determine how to implement the initiative,” Abrudan said.
Eyman calls initiative's success 'gratifying'
Eyman's $30 car tab initiative first passed 20 years ago. It was struck down in court before being enacted by lawmakers. The fees have crept up in recent years as lawmakers allowed them and voters in some places approved them.
KREM reporter Tim Pham spoke with Eyman on Wednesday, who called the initiative’s expected success “gratifying.”
“It’s been a 20-year tug-of-war that we’ve had with elected officials where the voters will say, ‘We just want to pay $30 to license our vehicle,’ and the politicians take it away,” Eyman said.
“Now the voters have voted again to say, ‘$30 means $30,’” he added.
At last check, the initiative was passing in all but three counties in Washington state – King, Jefferson, and San Juan voters are all rejecting I-976. Spokane County voters approved the initiative, with 56.12% of voters saying yes and 43.18% saying no, according to preliminary results.
“It’s extremely gratifying and I love the fact that Spokane passed it by such a wide margin,” Eyman told Pham.
Eyman explained that the reasoning behind $30 car tabs lies in competition with the neighboring states of Oregon and Idaho.
“What we were trying to do 20 years ago is that we want to make ourselves comparable to Idaho and Oregon so we didn’t have Idaho and Oregon plates on vehicles driving around the state of Washington. That’s the way it was prior to our first initiative,” he said.
Opponents told KREM in October that the North-Spokane Corridor, known as the "North-South Freeway," could also take a multi-million dollar hit in the event of the initiative’s passage.
KREM set out to verify this in October – and found that the North Spokane Corridor may not specifically take a direct hit but it is possible if funding is cut at the state level and moved between accounts.
On Wednesday, Eyman denied that the initiative would have any effect on the project.
“It’s like voters saw through the crap – they saw that it was all threats, lies and scare tactics,” he added.
More than 60 cities in Washington use car-tab fees to pay for road construction, bus service and sidewalks. In addition, the state charges fees to help pay for a variety of programs including Washington State Patrol traffic enforcement, highway maintenance, ferry operations and maintenance of county roads and bridges.